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John R. "Johnny" Cash (February 26, 1932 – September 12, 2003) was a singer-songwriter, actor, and author, widely considered one of the most influential American musicians of the 20th century. Although primarily remembered as a country icon, his genre-spanning songs and sound embraced rock and roll, rockabilly, blues, folk, and gospel. This crossover appeal won Cash the rare honor of multiple induction in the Country Music, Rock and Roll, and Gospel Music Halls of Fame. Cash was known for his deep bass-baritone voice, distinctive sound of his Tennessee Three backing band, a rebelliousness coupled with an increasingly somber and humble demeanor, free prison concerts, and trademark look, which earned him the nickname "The Man in Black". He traditionally began his concerts with the simple "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash.", followed by his signature "Folsom Prison Blues".
Much of Cash's music echoed themes of sorrow, moral tribulation and redemption, especially in the later stages of his career. His best-known songs included "I Walk the Line", "Folsom Prison Blues", "Ring of Fire", "Get Rhythm" and "Man in Black". He also recorded humorous numbers like "One Piece at a Time" and "A Boy Named Sue"; a duet with his future wife, June Carter, called "Jackson"; and railroad songs including "Hey, Porter" and "Rock Island Line". During the last stage of his career, Cash covered songs by several late 20th-century rock artists, most notably "Hurt" by Nine Inch Nails.
Cash was born in Kingsland, Arkansas. He was named J. R. Cash because his parents could not think of a name. When Cash enlisted in the Air Force, they wouldn't let him use initials as his name, so he started to use the legal name John R. Cash. In 1955, when signing with Sun Records, he took Johnny Cash as his stage name.
As his career was taking off in the late 1950s, Cash started drinking heavily and became addicted to amphetamines and barbiturates. For a brief time, he shared an apartment in Nashville with Waylon Jennings, who was heavily addicted to amphetamines. Cash used the uppers to stay awake during tours. Friends joked about his "nervousness" and erratic behavior, many ignoring the warning signs of his worsening drug addiction. In a behind-the-scenes look at The Johnny Cash Show, Cash claims to have "tried every drug there was to try."
Although in many ways spiraling out of control, Cash's frenetic creativity was still delivering hits. His rendition of "Ring of Fire" was a crossover hit, reaching No. 1 on the country charts and entering the Top 20 on the pop charts. The song was written by June Carter and Merle Kilgore. The song was originally performed by June's sister, but the signature mariachi-style horn arrangement was provided by Cash, who said that it had come to him in a dream. Vivian Liberto claims a different version of the origins of "Ring of Fire". In her book, I Walked the Line: My Life with Johnny, Liberto states that Cash gave Carter the credit for monetary reasons.
Cash curtailed his use of drugs for several years in 1968, after a spiritual epiphany in the Nickajack Cave, when he attempted to commit suicide while under the heavy influence of drugs. He descended deeper into the cave, trying to lose himself and "just die", when he passed out on the floor. He reported being exhausted and feeling at the end of his rope when he felt God's presence in his heart and managed to struggle out of the cave (despite the exhaustion) by following a faint light and slight breeze. To him, it was his own rebirth. June, Maybelle, and Ezra Carter moved into Cash's mansion for a month to help him conquer his addiction. Cash proposed onstage to June at a concert at the London Gardens in London, ON, CA on February 22, 1968; the couple married a week later (on March 1) in Franklin, KY. June had agreed to marry Cash after he had "cleaned up". He rediscovered his Christian faith, taking an "altar call" in Evangel Temple, a small church in the Nashville area, pastored by Rev. Jimmie Rodgers Snow, son of country music legend Hank Snow. His career was rejuvenated in the 1990s, leading to popularity with an audience not traditionally interested in country music. In 1991, he sang a version of "Man in Black" for the Christian punk band One Bad Pig's album I Scream Sunday. In 1993, he sang "The Wanderer" on U2's album Zooropa. Although no longer sought after by major labels, he was offered a contract with producer Rick Rubin's American Recordings label, better known for rap and hard rock.
Under Rubin's supervision, he recorded American Recordings (1994) in his living room, accompanied only by his Martin Dreadnought guitar – one of many Cash played throughout his career. The album featured covers of contemporary artists selected by Rubin and had much critical and commercial success, winning a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album. Cash wrote that his reception at the 1994 Glastonbury Festival was one of the highlights of his career. This was the beginning of a decade of music industry accolades and commercial success. Cash teamed up with Brooks & Dunn to contribute "Folsom Prison Blues" to the AIDS benefit album Red Hot + Country produced by the Red Hot Organization. On the same album, he performed the Bob Dylan favorite "Forever Young".
In 1997, Cash was diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease Shy-Drager syndrome, a form of multiple system atrophy. The diagnosis was later altered to autonomic neuropathy associated with diabetes. This illness forced Cash to curtail his touring. He was hospitalized in 1998 with severe pneumonia, which damaged his lungs. The albums American III: Solitary Man (2000) and American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002) contained Cash's response to his illness in the form of songs of a slightly more somber tone than the first two American albums. The video that was released for "Hurt", a cover of the song by Nine Inch Nails, fits Cash's view of his past and feelings of regret. The video for the song, from American IV, is now generally recognized as "his epitaph," and received particular critical and popular acclaim.
June Carter Cash died on May 15, 2003, at the age of 73. June had told Cash to keep working, so he continued to record, completing 60 more songs in the last four months of his life, and even performed a couple of surprise shows at the Carter Family Fold outside Bristol, Virginia. At the July 5, 2003, concert (his last public performance), singing "Ring of Fire".
While hospitalized at Baptist Hospital in Nashville, Cash died of complications from diabetes at approximately 2:00 a.m. CT on September 12, 2003—less than four months after his wife. It was suggested by writer Dulce Zamora, among others, that Johnny's health worsened due to a broken heart over June's death. He was buried next to his wife in Hendersonville Memory Gardens near his home in Hendersonville, TN.
Johnny Cash – CRY, CRY, CRY - “Cry! Cry! Cry!” is a song that was written and performed by singer/song writer, Johnny Cash. The song was originally released in 1955 and entered the charts at #14. The early success of the song led to a featured spot on the Louisiana Hayride Tour and kicked off the career of Johnny Cash in the process. The song sold over 100,000 copies alone in the southern states. Cash then began to tour with Elvis Presley soon after its release.
Johnny Cash – SUNDAY MORNIN’ COMIN’ DOWN - "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down" is a song written by Kris Kristofferson and first recorded by Ray Stevens in 1969; it became Stevens' first country chart hit, reaching #55 on the country charts and #81 on the pop Top 100 in 1969. Kristofferson released his own version the following year, on his debut album, Kristofferson. Johnny Cash also released a version of the song that year, on his live album The Johnny Cash Show. Cash's recording won the Country Music Association Award for Song of the Year in 1970 and hit number one on the country charts. Most recently it was featured on Willie Nelson's 2011 album, Remember Me, Vol. 1. Shawn Mullins also recorded a version on his 1998 album Soul's Core. Jerry Lee Lewis also did a version on his 2010 album Mean Old Man. In a 2013 interview Kristofferson noted "I'm just real grateful for that song because that opened up a whole lot doors for me. So many people that I admire, admired it. Actually, it was the song that allowed me to quit working for a living."
Johnny Cash – A BOY NAMED SUE (LIVE) - "A Boy Named Sue" is a poem by Shel Silverstein that has been made popular by Johnny Cash. Cash was at the height of his popularity when he recorded the song live at California's San Quentin State Prison at a concert on February 24, 1969. The concert was filmed by Granada Television for later television broadcast. The audio of the concert was later released on Cash's At San Quentin album. Cash also performed the song (with comical variations on the original performance) in December 1969 at Madison Square Garden. The song became Cash's biggest hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and his only top ten single there, spending three weeks at #2 in 1969.
Johnny Cash – COCAINE BLUES (LIVE) – "Cocaine Blues" is a Western Swing song written by T. J. "Red" Arnall, a reworking of the traditional song "Little Sadie". This song was originally recorded by W. A. Nichol's Western Aces (vocal by "Red" Arnall) on the S & G label, probably in 1947, and by Roy Hogsed and the Rainbow Riders May 25, 1947, at Universal Recorders in Hollywood, California. Hogsed's recording was released on Coast Records (262) and Capitol (40120), with the Capitol release reaching number 15 on the country music charts in 1948. The song is the tale of a man, Willy Lee, who murders a woman while under the influence of whiskey and cocaine. Willy is caught and sentenced to "ninety-nine years in the San Quentin Pen".
Johnny Cash famously performed the song at his Folsom Prison concert, saying "Folsom" instead of "San Quentin", an event also portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix in the Cash biographical film Walk the Line. The film version, edited down to make it shorter, fades into the next scene before the line "I can't forget the day I shot that bad bitch down" is sung. The DVD specials include an extended version of the song with the lyric, and the full, unedited version (apparently a different "take") is found on the soundtrack CD.
Johnny Cash – DELIA’S GONE - Delia Green (c. 1886 – December 25, 1900) was a 14-year-old African-American murder victim who has been identified as the likely inspiration for several well-known traditional American songs, usually known by the titles "Delia" and "Delia's Gone." The songs inspired by Green's short life and murder now split into two forms, both staples of the "folk revival" of the 1950s and early 1960s. One version, usually attributed to Blake Alphonso Higgs (the calypso singer also known as "Blind Blake"), is known as "Delia's Gone," and is explicitly told from her killer's point of view. "Delia's Gone" was prominently covered by The Kingston Trio, Pete Seeger and four times by Johnny Cash. In the music video for Cash's fourth recording, Delia is played by Kate Moss. The second version, generally attributed to Blind Willie McTell, is usually known as "Delia," and is told from a more ambiguous point of view. Among the many singers who have covered "Delia" are Bob Dylan and David Bromberg.
Johnny Cash – I’VE BEEN EVERYWHERE – "I've Been Everywhere" is a song which was written by Geoff Mack in 1959, and made popular by the singer Lucky Starr in 1962.
The song (as originally written) listed Australian towns. It was later adapted by Hank Snow for North American (predominantly United States) toponyms and by John Hore (later known as John Grenell) with New Zealand toponyms (1966).
The song was a number 1 hit in Country Music in November 1962 in the United States for the recording artist Hank Snow. The song was also recorded by Lynn Anderson (USA 1970), Asleep at the Wheel (USA 1973), Johnny Cash (USA 1996), Chip Dockery, Ted Egan, Little Jan Buckner of Wendy Bagwell & The Sunliters (USA 1972), the "Farrelly Brothers" from the television series The Aunty Jack Show (Australia 1974, a parody version), John Grenell (NZ 1966), Mike Ford (Canada, 2005), Rolf Harris (UK 1963), Clifton Jansky, The Sunny Cowgirls and the Statler Brothers. Harvey Reid also included the song in his Dreamer or Believer album.
Johnny Cash –THE MAN COMES AROUND (EARLY TAKE) – "The Man Comes Around" is the title track from Johnny Cash's American IV: The Man Comes Around, released in 2002. It was actually written a few years earlier; however, Cash updated it for the album. It is one of the last songs Cash wrote before his death. Both sung and spoken, the song makes numerous Biblical references, especially to the Book of Revelation.
Johnny Cash – SHE USED TO LOVE ME A LOT - "She Used to Love Me a Lot" is a song recorded by American country music artist David Allan Coe. It was released in December 1984 as the lead single from Coe's album Darlin', Darlin. The song peaked at number 11 on both the U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles chart and the Canadian RPM Country Tracks chart. It was written by Dennis Morgan, Charles Quillen, and Kye Fleming. A version of the song by Johnny Cash was recorded in the early 1980s, but remained unreleased until 2014.
June Carter Cash – RING OF FIRE – "Ring of Fire" or "The Ring of Fire" is a country music song popularized by Johnny Cash and co-written by June Carter Cash and Merle Kilgore. The single appears on Cash's 1963 album, Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash. The song was originally recorded by June's sister, Anita Carter, on her Mercury Records album Folk Songs Old and New (1963) as "(Love's) Ring of Fire".
The song was recorded on March 25, 1963, and became the biggest hit of Johnny Cash's career, staying at number one on the charts for seven weeks. It was certified Gold on January 21, 2010 by the R.I.A.A. and has also sold over 1.2 million digital downloads.
Although "Ring of Fire" sounds somewhat ominous, the term refers to falling in love – which is what June Carter was experiencing with Johnny Cash at the time. Some sources claim that Carter had seen the phrase "Love is like a burning ring of fire," underlined in one of her uncle A. P. Carter's Elizabethan books of poetry. She worked with Kilgore on writing a song inspired by this phrase as she had seen her uncle do in the past. She had written: "There is no way to be in that kind of hell, no way to extinguish a flame that burns, burns, burns".
Johnny Cash – JOHNNY 99 - "Johnny 99" is a song written and recorded by Bruce Springsteen, which first appeared on Springsteen's 1982 solo album Nebraska. In "Johnny 99" Springsteen sings about an auto worker who gets laid off in Mahwah, New Jersey and shoots and kills a night clerk while drunk and distraught. As a result, he is apprehended and is sentenced to 99 years in prison, but requests to be executed instead. On the song, Springsteen is accompanied only by his acoustic guitar. Despite the bleakness of the song's themes - including unemployment, poverty, robbery, murder and possibly execution - the tune is ironically jaunty, with a shuffling rockabilly beat. Other artists have recorded "Johnny 99". Most famously, Johnny Cash recorded this song along with another Nebraska song, "Highway Patrolman" for an album that Cash entitled Johnny 99. The song has also been recorded for Bruce Springsteen covers albums by John Hiatt and Los Lobos.
Red Hot Poker Dots – JACKSON - "Jackson" is a song written in 1963 by Billy Edd Wheeler and Jerry Leiber and first recorded by Wheeler. It is best known from two 1967 releases: a pop hit single by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood and a country hit single by Johnny Cash and June Carter, which has become more appreciated by non-country audiences in recent years as a result of Cash's continued popularity and its use in the 2011 film The Help. The song is about a married couple who find (according to the lyrics) that the "fire" has gone out of their relationship. The song relates the desire of both partners to travel to Jackson where they each expect to be welcomed as someone far better suited to the city's lively night life than the other is.
LIVE – I WALK THE LINE – "I Walk the Line" is a song written by Johnny Cash and recorded in 1956. After three attempts with moderate chart ratings, "I Walk the Line" became the first number one Billboard hit for Cash. The single remained on the record charts for over 43 weeks, and sold over 2 million copies. The song was originally recorded at Sun Studio on April 2, 1956, and was released on May 1. It spent six weeks at the top spot on the U.S. country Juke Box charts that summer, one week on the C&W Jockey charts and number two on the C&W Best Seller charts. "I Walk the Line" crossed over and reached number 19 on the pop music charts.
It was performed with the help of Marshall Grant and Luther Perkins, two mechanics that his brother introduced him to following his discharge from the Air Force. Cash and his wife, Vivian, were living in Memphis, Tennessee, at the time. Cash became the front man for the group and precipitated the introduction of the group to Sam Phillips of Sun Records. In 1955 they began recording under the Sun label.
The song was re-recorded four times during Cash's career. In 1964 for the I Walk the Line album, again in 1969 for the At San Quentin album, in 1970 for the I Walk the Line soundtrack, and finally in 1988 for the Classic Cash: Hall of Fame Series album.
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